Talking guns: echoes of Kenya’s proxy war in Somalia

Bid to popularize gun ownership smirks of selfish capitalistic enterprise

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Since the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998 by a then little-known Al-Qaeda affiliate group, Al-Shabaab, Kenya has been attacked countless times. But we did not invade Somalia for that reason, until the kidnappings of British tourists off the coast of Lamu in 2011. That invasion was deemed illegal as it lacked requisite UN ratification.

UNOSOM I and II were the efforts applied by the UN to bring peace and stability to Somalia. When those failed, they packed and left in 1995, leaving Somalia at the mercy of Al-Shabaab – until recently. The first Somalia government set up after more than 20 years is under-resourced and struggles to counter seasoned Al-Shabaab fighters – who took advantage of the vacuum left by the UN and the lack of proper government to grow tentacles in the country. Today, Somalia is a threat to regional peace and security – the more reason UN presence in Somalia is crucial, now more than ever before!

That said, Kenya’s presence in Somalia has not been without controversy. Reports by the UN’s Monitoring Group have accused KDF of being the mastermind of illicit trade in charcoal that helps fund Al-Shabaab activities. The most recent one contradicts the role KDF soldiers are meant to play in Somalia. With the presence of KDF in Somalia, Kenya has moved from being the beacon of peace to talking guns and grenades. The influx of illegal ammunition in Kenya is enough to raise brows. The concern is whether Kenya has signed up to a ‘commercialised war’ where terrorism becomes an excuse to purchase ammunition to benefit arms dealers and individuals in given countries.

In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 5, 2011 tents are seen at the UNHCR’s Ifo Extension camp outside Dadaab, eastern Kenya, 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Somali border. The Dadaab refugee camp – the largest in the world – was built for 90,000 people. The current population is over 400,000 with thousands of new arrivals crammed into areas outside the refugee camp, waiting to be formally admitted. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

The transition of Kenya from being a beacon of peace to a war-mongering one has been stratospheric. Artificially created fear validates the concern that we are fighting a proxy war for profit. There is not a small kiosk or shopping mall in Kenya that one can enter without being padded down, while malls in major cities such as London or Paris are still easy to enter despite years of terror attacks.

Civilian gun ownership in Kenya has become a status symbol. In the latest terror attack, a political aspirant turned up armed to the hilt with unlicensed guns to allegedly ‘help fight terrorists’ at the DusitD2 complex. Many questions have been asked of his role that day, but the most important one ought to be, where does a civilian obtain such firepower in Kenya? There is talk now too, to arm private guards, who have traditionally secured properties with use of the humble rungu. Now, I am not about to downplay efforts to bust crime. Rise in criminal activity warrants a rethink of how to combat crime, but dishing out firearms is not the solution.

The move to arm security guards appears to fit into the narrative of artificially created fear that Kenya’s insecurity is unmanageable without the latest ammunition? But I suggest that the real motive is to increase demand for arms in order to expand the market for arms dealers. 

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia are examples of African countries where arms-dealing was liberalised but which, ultimately, bore the brunt of endless civil war. 

Former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, traded the country’s ‘blood’ diamonds and forests for arms in order to cling to power and lived to pay the highest price for it – he is serving a 50-year jail sentence for crimes against humanity. And, until recently, a Dutch national, a timber trader, behind the sale of arms to Liberia has been on the run for his part in the scheme that left millions of Liberians dead. In the same vein, questions have been raised on the activities of a German security firm in Somalia by German MPs. 

The leap from a once-peaceful Kenya to a gun-crusading one suggests perhaps there are individuals behind the influx of guns in our country. The question is, do we want to go down the Liberia way? If not, then what exactly is going on and how did we end up talking guns and grenades and not peace anymore?

The intention by government to close down the Dadaab Refugee Camp and build a wall between the border of Kenya and Somalia “for security reasons” smirks of a country that is prepared to disregard international law in pursuit of individualistic interests rather than nationalistic ones. Kenya is signatory to most international treaties and should know that refugee protection is incumbent of every State, and that ‘refoulment’ of Somali refugees in the face of instability in Somalia is an exercise in futility.

If we are willing to such great lengths to arm private guards in the guise of fighting crime and watch as foreigners are kidnapped within our borders, then KDF would be more effective within borders instead of fighting a phoney war in Somalia. Our defence forces’ primary role should be to secure our borders internally. 

The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ is an international canon that places responsibility on the shoulders of the UN to protect Somalia. Our government’s responsibility is to secure stability and peace from within. 

Bring our peace back!  

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